Gather 300 or so women entrepreneurs, shower them with pertinent advice and encourage them to network. Then send them home with the taste of chocolate in their mouths.
Sound like a promising plan? That’s what the organizers of Mountain BizWorks’ seventh annual Women’s Business Conference think.
The May 27 event aims to offer support, encouragement and relevant information to both new and established small-business owners. Organized by the nonprofit’s Women’s Business Center (with co-sponsor A-B Tech), the Asheville conference is one of the few in this part of the state devoted to women’s business issues.
“We’re not going to get up here and try to show you how to … write music or poetry or whatever,” says Sharon Oxendine, director of the Women’s Business Center. “But we do know the business end, and we know resources. We know what women want as far as business, because we’ve been doing it for so long. And I think that’s why women want to come to the conference.”
The event can also be seen as a celebration of sorts for those women entrepreneurs who’ve made it through the Great Recession.
“If ever a year was really hard in this area for these folks to continue to do what they’re doing, this would be it,” says Oxendine, noting that the recession has left many businesses at the end of their financial reserves. “And some of them have not only done it, but they’ve exceeded most expectations.”
Mountain BizWorks Finance Manager Tammy Chandler agrees, calling it a “make-or-break year” for many entrepreneurs.
Adds Oxendine, “These people have had to be fearless in trying to get through some of their obstacles and barriers.”
Keynote speaker Denise Ryan will get things going on an inspirational note; her “Fire Up the Troops!” talk will focus on improving leadership skills.
“She’ll really wake you up in the morning,” promises Daphne Carson, Mountain BizWorks’ interim regional director. Ryan is a motivational business speaker with the Raleigh-based FireStar Speaking.
Attendees can choose morning and afternoon breakout sessions on such diverse subjects as strategizing for media coverage (led by Stephanie Carson of Out of the Box Productions); attracting the perfect clients (by Asheville storyteller Celeste Ametrine); building highly effective teams (Angela Owen, president of TBL Leadership Partners); and riding the wave of business ownership (Wink: Heads & Threads co-owner Christine DiBenedetto).
More straightforward business-resource choices include a tour of A-B Tech’s Business Incubator led by Small Business Center Director Jill Sparks. And Mountain BizWorks Resource Specialists Adriana Chavela and Erika Rodriguez will detail the nonprofit’s key services, which focus on lending, consulting and training.
Three other sessions aren’t strictly business: a talk about the path to success and creative wellness by expressive arts therapist/consultant Jessica Chilton of Spark Creative Wellness Studio; a session on total body fitness by wellness advocate Angela Vaughan; and “A Working Woman’s Guide to Intimacy” by Asheville clinical sexologist Kelley J. Wolfe.
The intimacy talk has been particularly popular in the past, notes Karin Hedberg, Mountain BizWorks’ office manager. “Let’s face it: Sex sells,” she quips.
“And chocolate,” adds Oxendine.
Which brings us to Ryan’s afternoon talk, “Motivation by Chocolate,” which will feature treats prepared by a Haywood County business, Chocolate, M.D.
Besides the educational workshops, the event will also feature a structured networking session, billed as “Business Speed Dating,” facilitated by Emily Breedlove, founder of The Center for New Mountain Business in Franklin.
In keeping with its mission to support entrepreneurship, Mountain BizWorks is also using many local women small-business owners as vendors for the conference.
In addition, a “member market” will showcase local goods and services.
Thanks to the support of regional sponsors (a complete list appears at mountainbizworks.org), the conference itself is slated to break even. Not bad, considering that Mountain BizWorks offers 10 conference scholarships (as does Blue Ridge Community College).
Judging by years past, the event seems to have captured that elusive blend of practical support and inspiration.
“The women come together, and they’re laughing and supporting one another,” Chandler says. “And they go out of there with some great contacts.”
— Freelance writer and editor Tracy Rose lives in Asheville.